As part of Perfect Game's preseason High School Baseball coverage, the top 10 teams in the nation will be profiled leading up to the release of the top 50 teams in the nation. Once the national rankings are released, Perfect Game will provide previews of each of the 10 regions across the nation. Please visit the High School page for all of Perfect Game's high school baseball based content.
Key Losses: RHP/SS Lance McCullers (MLB draft 1st round); C/1B Joey Altieri (South Florida); 1B/RHP Max Beerman (Villanova); OF/RHP Conor O’Brien (N.C. State); OF Vincent Leto (South Florida); C/3B Nolan Schultz (Rochester)
Top Returning Players: Sr. SS/RHP Spencer Trayner (North Carolina); Sr. LHP John Kilichowski (Vanderbilt); Sr. C/3B/RHP Adrian Chacon (North Carolina); Sr. 1B/OF/RHP Daniel Portales (South Florida); Sr. 3B/2B Vincent Miniet (South Florida); Sr. RHP Jordan Parnell (High Point); Sr. OF/RHP Leland Saile (U.S. Naval Academy)
Notable Matchups: Feb. 23 vs. Gulliver Prep; March 4 vs. IMG Academy; April 2-3 vs. Jesuit Easter Tournament; April 16 at Sarasota; April 18 vs. Venice.
THROUGHOUT THE SIX SEASONS RICHIE WARREN has been the head coach at his high school alma mater Tampa Jesuit, the Tigers have enjoyed a regular presence in the upper tiers of both the Perfect Game Florida Region and the PG National High School Team Rankings. They are also consistently ranked among Florida’s elite in any statewide, class-by-class rankings various news organizations compile.
But despite the regional recognition and national acclaim, state and national championships have proven elusive. The Tigers have won three straight FHSAA district titles (those championships lead to a berth in the state tournament field) but have fell just short of state and national titles.
That does nothing to temper expectations, however, and the 2013 version of the Tampa Jesuit Tigers find themselves in familiar territory: No. 4 in PG’s Preseason National High School Team Rankings. It’s an especially notable distinction considering the program graduated one of the finest high school players to ever come out of Tampa, right-handed pitcher and shortstop Lance McCullers Jr.
The Tigers have advanced to the either the Class 4A or 5A state semifinals each of the last three years only to be eliminated short of a state championship by Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, Fla.) in 2010 and 2011, and 2012 Perfect Game National Champion Plantation American Heritage School last year. Jesuit lost to American Heritage, 3-0, in eight innings in the semifinal round.
That result left the Tigers with a 28-2 record – the best record percentage-wise in Warren’s first six seasons – with their only other loss coming to national power Miami Gulliver Prep. Jesuit finished in the No. 3 spot in PG’s final 2012 National High School Team Rankings behind American Heritage and Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman.
“The goal is to win a state championship and that’s really what we’re after, but I don’t think it would be fair if I said last year was a disappointment,” Warren said in a recent telephone conversation with PG. “There are so many great memories and friendships; these kids have played with the mission of the school in their hearts every time they’ve put on the Jesuit uniform.
“I have to be careful saying it was a disappointment even though we all know the kids were extremely disappointed with the outcome of that final game.”
When Warren looks at the 2013 Jesuit Tigers, the first thing he sees is a wealth of pitching depth – by Warren’s count, seven guys on his roster are capable of delivering their fastballs in the 90-plus mph range. He pointed specifically to a quintet of seniors, all of whom are already well-known by PG and professional scouts, and college coaches.
There is 6-foot-6 left-hander John Kilichowski, a Vanderbilt signee who was 4-1 with a 0.83 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings last spring. Kilichowski earned a 10.0 grade (PG’s highest) with his performance at the 2012 PG National Showcase last June and is ranked the 140th overall national prospect in the class of 2013.
Terrific right-hander and middle-infield prospect Spencer Trayner also earned a 10.0 grade at the 2012 PG National Showcase and is ranked 131st overall (No. 5 nationally as a MIF). Trayner was 6-0 with 0.69 ERA (39 Ks in 30 1/3 innings) and hit .288 (23-for-80) with 14 RBI and 26 runs. His fastball has touched 93 mph and he has signed with North Carolina as a potential two-way player.
Adrian Chacon is another intriguing two-way prospect who, like Trayner, has already signed with North Carolina. Ranked No. 163 nationally, the right-handed Chacon will both catch and pitch for Warren this spring after a junior season in which he hit .342 (27-for-79) with four home runs, four doubles, 27 RBI and 21 runs. He pitched 6 1/3 innings in three appearances, and surrendered only two singles (no runs) while picking up both a win and a save.
Senior right-handers Jordan Parnell (High Point) and Daniel Portales (South Florida) add even more depth to the staff. Seniors Vincent Miniet (.429, 2 HRs, 16 RBI) and Leland Saile (.333, 2 HRs, 10 RBI) are among the Tigers’ top returning hitters.
“Just in arms alone we have five Division-I guys that have already signed,” Warren said. “We have some juniors and sophomores that have verbally committed, and we can run out a staff that’s 10-deep that would really rival, I believe, a college staff. We can go into the bullpen and make changes that other high schools don’t necessarily have the luxury of doing.”
With McCullers front-and-center on their roster, the 2012 Jesuit Tigers entered their season at No. 1 in Perfect Game’s preseason rankings and never fell out of the top-four. A 2011 Perfect Game All-American, McCullers earned the Jackie Robinson Award as PG’s National Player of the Year that August and certainly lived up to that honor during his 2012 senior season at Jesuit.
He was 13-0 in 14 starts with a microscopic 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings. He also batted .280 (21-for-75) with six doubles, a triple, two home runs, 21 RBI and 27 runs scored. After the season, the University of Florida signee was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and then signed a contract with the Houston Astros after they made him a first-round compensation selection with the 41st overall pick in the draft.
The Tigers were 110-16 (.873) during McCullers’ four seasons on the varsity (2009-12), including records of 26-3 in ’09, 29-4 in ’10 and 28-2 in ’12.
“When he came in as a freshman is when we kind of started making another run, and in his sophomore, junior and senior years he started earning some national recognition along with the understanding of how good he could be,” Warren said. “I wouldn’t say (the success) was all (due to) him, but what he did was raise the bar in practice; he forced guys to get better. What that translated in to was a lot of wins.”
Warren graduated from Jesuit in 2000, and was a starting pitcher on the Tigers’ 2000 Class 4A state championship team. He returned to Jesuit as an assistant coach (and social studies teacher) in 2004 and became the head coach in the fall of 2006. His six-year mark at his alma mater is 154-29 and he was named the FHSAA Class 4A-9 Coach of the Year in 2007, ’10, ’11 and the 5A-10 COY in ’09.
Warren has maintained a remarkable run of success by surrounding himself with talented young high school-level prospects that are proven winners. So the question begs to be asked: Does this 2013 Jesuit team deserve its No. 4 preseason ranking and its place alongside all the great teams the program produced in previous years.?
“You look at the rankings, and it means we’re doing something right,” Warren said. “Not only do we have quality kids but we have quality baseball players. It starts in the classroom first – at a rigorous academic school like Jesuit they have to take care of the academic side before they can even play baseball.
“When an organization like (Perfect Game) ranks us, it means that we have good kids and quality baseball players,” he continued. “I would like to think that it’s warranted … but with that comes a bulls-eye. Every team we’re going to play in the regular season, whether they’re ranked or not, will know that we are preseason top-five and that will just add a little bit something special to the game.”